Rep. Walt McLeod looks back on 2016 session

Margaret Brackett - Contributing Columnist

This week’s Newberry Notes is a look back at the 2016 House of Representatives session with information provided by Rep. Walt McLeod:

Although I strongly supported the legislation to increase the state gas tax in the state to pay for roadway and bridge improvements, the 2016 session to raise the 16 cents state gas tax. My opinion is that in the near future, the legislation will recognize that our state has a duty to require out-of-state drivers using our roads to pay the same user fee as the people of South Carolina.

The 2016 Legislature passed into law a host of initiatives that will help build a stronger and better state. As the assistant Democratic leader in the House, it was my privilege to be a part of the productive and successful session.

Roadways and bridges

1. Legislation authorizing up to $4.5 billion through the issuance of bonds for roadway and bridge improvements over the next 10 years; $2 billion for interstate highway widening and improvements; $950 million to replace 400 bridges; and $1.4 billion for resurfacing of primary and farm to market roads.

2. $50 million was approved to county transportation committees for fiscal year 2016-17. Newberry County will receive $808 in addition to the approximately $1.2 million it receives each year from the state gas tax.

Of the total amount generated each year state’s 16 cents gas tax, and allocated to county transportation committees, Newberry County receives 1.56 percent of the total. Each month that 1.56 percent creates about $100,000 for Newberry County, which equals $1.2 million per year.

Last year, the Legislature appropriated $226 million to the state’s 46 county transportation committees. This translated to $3.5 million in additional funds to improving state highways and farm market roads in Newberry County.

State ethics law reform

1. I am pleased to report that this past June, the Legislature passed a bill for an independent state agency – the State Ethics Committee — to investigate complaints against state legislators. No longer will the House Ethics Committee investigate House members and the Senate Ethics investigate Senators. This is a very important change, and hopefully this will give the public more confidence in fair investigation of legislators.

2, The state ethics law was tightened to require public officials to report where they get their private income.

Local Government Fund

State law requires that 4.5 percent of the most recent fiscal year’s general fund be appropriated to the Local Government Fund — 83 percent of which is for counties and 17 percent of which is for municipalities.

For the new fiscal year 2016-17, the Legislature appropriated $233 million for the Local Government Fund, which is about $10 million more than last year. This is an $80 million, or 25 percent, shortfall of the statutory formula for the Local Government Fund.

The beauty of the Local Government Fund is that it keeps the lid on local property tax assessed by the county council. There has not been a heavy property tax increase in Newberry County for more than a decade.Please know that when the Local Government Funds are abolished, it is inevitable that county council will be forced to impose a heavy property increase to pay for the operation of county government and to provide services to citizens.

Education and state funding

In Newberry County, more than 60 percent of the property tax goes straight to the public schools and less than 40 percent goes to Newberry County to operate the county government and provide necessary services to citizens.

For fiscal year 2016-17, the formula requires that the base student cost per student is $2,933 per student. Yet the new state budget appropriates only $2,350 as the amount that the state government is sending to the school district for each student.

New moped regulation

Moped operators and passengers must wear reflective vests at night. Mopeds can be operated only on roadways that have a speed limit of 55 mph and no moped can be driven on a highway with a speed limit of more than 55 mph. No person may drive a moped in excess of 35 mph. The minimum age for operating is from age 14 to 15 years of age.

Margaret Brackett

Contributing Columnist

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.

Margaret Brackett is from Newberry. Her columns appear weekly in The Newberry Observer.

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